Neuengamme concentration camp perimeter along the Dove Elbe embankment
|Location||Hamburg, Northern Germany|
|Operated by||Schutzstaffel (SS)|
|Liberated by||British Army|
|Notable inmates||see below|
The Neuengamme concentration camp was a network of Nazi German concentration camps in Northern Germany that consisted of the main camp, Neuengamme, and its over 85 satellite camps. Established in 1938 near the village of Neuengamme in the Bergedorf district of Hamburg, the Neuengamme camp became the largest concentration camp in Northwest Germany. Over 100,000 prisoners came through Neuengamme and its subcamps, 24 of which were for women. The verified death toll is 42,900: 14,000 in the main camp, 12,800 in the subcamps, and 16,100 in the death marches and bombings during the final weeks of World War II. Following Germany’s defeat in 1945, the British Army used the site as an internment camp for SS and other Nazi officials. In 1948, the British transferred the land to the Free Hanseatic City of Hamburg, which summarily demolished the camp’s wooden barracks and built in its stead a prison cell block, converting the former concentration camp site into two state prisons operated by the Hamburg authorities from 1950 to 2004. Following protests by various groups of survivors and allies, the site now serves as a memorial. It is situated 15 km southeast of the centre of Hamburg.
In 1937, Hitler declared five cities to be converted into Führer cities (German:Führerstädte) in the new Nazi regime, one of which was Hamburg. The banks of the Elbe river of Hamburg, considered Germany’s “Gateway to the World” for its large port, was to be redone in the clinker brick style characteristic of German Brick Expressionism.
To supply the bricks, the SS-owned company Deutsche Erd-und Steinwerke (DESt) (English: German Earth & Stone Works) purchased a defunct brick factory (German: Klinkerwerk) and 500,000 m² of land in Neuengamme in September 1938.
The SS established the Neuengamme concentration camp on December 13, 1938, as a subcamp (German: Außenlager) of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and transported 100 prisoners from Sachsenhausen to begin constructing a camp and operate the brickworks.
In January 1940, Heinrich Himmler visited the site and deemed Neuengamme brick production below standard. In April 1940, the SS and the city of Hamburg signed a contract for the construction of a larger, more modern brick factory, an expanded connecting waterway, and a direct supply of bricks and prisoners for construction work in the city. On June 4, the Neuengamme concentration camp became an independent camp (German: Stammlager), and transports began to arrive from all over Germany and soon the rest of Europe.
As the death rate climbed between 1940 and 1942, a crematorium was constructed in the camp. In the same year, the civilian corporations Messap and Jastram opened armament plants on the camp site and used concentration camp prisoners as their workforces. After the war turned in Stalingrad, Nazis imprisoned millions of Soviets in the concentration camp system and Soviet POWs became the largest prisoner group in the Neuengamme camp and received brutal treatment by SS guards.
By the end of 1942, the death rate had risen to 10% per month. In 1943, the satellite camp on the Channel Island of Alderney is established. In July 1944, a special section of the camp was set up for prominent French prisoners, comprising political opponents and resistors against the German occupation of France. These prisoners included John William, who had participated in the sabotaging and bombing of a military factory in Montluçon. William discovered his singing voice while cheering his fellow prisoners at Neuengamme and went on to a prominent career as a singer of popular and gospel music.
By the end of 1944, the total number of prisoners grew to approximately 49,000, with 12,000 in Neuengamme and 37,000 in the subcamps, including nearly 10,000 women in the various subcamps for women.
On March 15, 1945, the transfer of Scandinavian prisoners from other German camps to Neuengamme began, as part of the White Buses program. Neuengamme’s subcamps were emptied later that month on death marches to the reception camps of Bergen-Belsen and Osnabrück, and, on April 8, an air raid on a prisoner train transport led to the Celle massacre. Orders were issued for the evacuation of the main camp on April 19. Between 20 and 26 April, over 9000 prisoners were taken from Neuengamme and loaded on four ships: the passenger liners Deutschland and Cap Arcona, and two large steamers, SS Thielbek and Athen.
The prisoners were in the ships' hold for several days with no food or water. Concluding that the ships contained Norway-bound fleeing Nazi officials rather than thousands of prisoners, the Royal Air Force Hawker Typhoons (RAF) bombed the Thielbek, Cap Arcona and Deutschland on May 3. Intelligence that the ships carried concentration camp prisoners did not reach the squadrons in time to halt the attack. Survivors who jumped into the water were strafed by cannon fire from the RAF aircraft or shot by Nazi officials. Thousands of dead washed ashore just as the British Army successfully occupied the area on land. The British forced German POWs and civilians to dig mass graves for the dead. Approximately 7,100 prisoners and officials died in the raid; only 450 prisoners survived. 600-700 concentration camp prisoners remained in the main camp under SS orders to destroy all incriminating documentation, dismantle many areas of the camp, and tidy the site. On 2 May 1945, the SS and the last of the prisoners left the Neuengamme concentration camp. The first British soldiers arrived the next day and, seeing a barren and clean site, reported the concentration camp as “empty”.
In the first post-war months, the camp was used as a Soviet displaced persons camp, with German POWs held separately. In June, British forces began to use the site as an internment camp for witnesses, SS members and Nazi officials, called Civil Internment Camp No. 6.
The Civil Internment Camp No. 6 was closed on 13 August 1948, and the grounds were transferred to the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, which then built and opened a prison on the site of the former prisoners’ bunkers in 1950. Several original buildings from the former camp were used for various purposes by the prisons until their closing in February 2006.
On 18 March 1946, the trial of fourteen officials of the main Neuengamme concentration camp began before a British military tribunal, at the Curiohaus building in Hamburg, Germany, the first of thirty-three trials that would be held over a period of the next two years brought by the British against staff of the camp and its satellites. Former prisoners from six countries testified during the trial regarding the executions committed in the camp, including those of Soviet POWs murdered with poisonous gas, "medical" experiments conducted on inmates, and the brutal treatment and appalling conditions of the prisoners in general.
The defendants were found guilty of war crimes on 3 May 1946; eleven were sentenced to death and the other three to prison terms ranging from 10 to 20 years. On 8 October 1946, the eleven men found guilty in the Neuengamme Trials were executed by hanging by the British executioner Albert Pierrepoint. These men were former commandant Max Pauly, SS Dr. Bruno Kitt, Anton Thumann, Johann Reese, Willy Warnke, SS Dr. Alfred Trzebinski, Heinrich Ruge, Wilhem Bahr, Andreas Brems, Wilhelm Dreimann, and Adolf Speck.
As the former concentration camp site was used directly after the war as an internment camp and then as a prison, the history of the atrocities that occurred in Neuengamme and her subcamps was largely forgotten in Hamburg and the rest of Germany. The establishment of the memorial was thus a gradual process that faced strong opposition from citizens and the Hamburg City Council.
The first memorial is a simple monument erected on the leftmost (northernmost) edge of the grounds on the site of the former SS nursery that had used ashes from the crematorium as fertilizer, far from the contemporaneous prison and the former prisoners compound of the concentration camp. Following intense pressure from the Amicale Internationale de Neuengamme, the main organization representing all former camp prisoners, the memorial is then expanded in 1965. In 1981, an exhibition building (German: Dokumentenhaus) is added, and the first exhibition on the history of the Neuengamme camp is inaugurated. All memorialization is still cut off from the main portion of the former concentration camp that included the barracks, brickworks, and death commandos. In 1984, protests successfully halt the demolition of the former brickworks and several important historical buildings from the former camp are designated as heritage sites. In 1995, the former armaments factory of the Walther company is altered into a permanent exhibition and the Dokumentenhaus is remodeled into the House of Remembrance. A new museum is opened in 2005. While decades of pressure from survivors and activists manage to convince the Hamburg Senate to relocate the two prisons standing on the former concentration camp site in 1989, it is in 2003 and 2006 when they are officially moved off-site. The entirety of the grounds is thus only incorporated into the memorial site in 2007.
The Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial (German: KZ-Gedenkstätte Neuengamme), opened in 2008, is located in Hamburg-Bergedorf at Jean-Dolidier-Weg 75, named for a French activist integral to the creation of the memorial, and renamed from Camp (German: Lager) road. At 57 hectares, the Neuengamme Memorial site is one of the largest memorials in Germany.
Three of the Neuengamme satellite camps also serve as public memorials: Bullenhuser Damm, Poppenbüttel, and Fuhlsbüttel. The first of these is a memorial for the 20 children murdered following medical experimentation in the main camp. The second is a former subcamp of Neuengamme in Hamburg-Sasel, where Jewish women from the Lodz Ghetto in Poland were transferred and forced to work in construction. The third is located inside the gatehouse of the Fuhlsbüttel penitentiary. Parts of this complex served as a concentration camp for communists, opponents of the regime and many other groups. About 450 inmates were murdered there during Nazi rule.
The order to transfer the prisoners from the camps to the prison ships came from the Hamburg Gauleiter Karl Kaufmann who was himself acting on orders from Berlin. Although Kaufmann later claimed during the war crimes tribunal that the prisoners were destined for Sweden, the head of the Hamburg Gestapo, Georg-Henning Graf von Bassewitz-Behr, said at the same trial that the prisoners were, in fact, slated to be killed in compliance with Himmler's orders. It has been suggested that the plan itself called for scuttling the ships with the prisoners still aboard.
Hunger reigned supreme. The food given to them was so terribly insufficient that most prisoners died within three months of arrival. The meager portions available were of poor quality and were often inedible. The most lethal disease in the camp was diarrhoea. Many prisoners attempted to acquire food illegally, and others managed to survive through food packages from relatives and the Red Cross. Only certain groups of prisoners, however, were even allowed to receive any mail from family or international organizations.
Life in the camp was a constant struggle for survival, down to the smallest of details. One of the few possessions the prisoners were allowed to have, their bowls, were rusty and could only be washed in cold water.
At the start of the building of the camp, prisoners slept on the floor of their crowded wooden barracks. In 1941, three-tier bunk beds were installed. From 1944, bunks were shared by two or three prisoners. The smell and overcrowding meant sleep was impossible after the 10–12 hour workday, and the bathrooms were always overcrowded in the mornings.
The Neuengamme concentration camp was run under the SS practice of “extermination through labour” (German: Vernichtung durch Arbeit). Prisoners worked for 10–12 hours per day and were killed both due to the inhumane conditions in the camp as well as active violence from the guards. 42,900 prisoners died from difficult slave labour combined with insufficient nutrition, extremely unhygienic conditions contributing to widespread disease, and arbitrary brutal punishments from the guards. Although hospitals existed in the camp, medicine was scarce and entrance into the hospital was almost always a death sentence. In 1942, a typhus epidemic entreated the SS to allow former doctors imprisoned in the camp to work at the camp hospitals; prior to this reversal, the hospital staff comprised almost no former medical professionals. The hospitals were also used as a place to murder large groups of weakened Soviet prisoners via lethal injection.
Work at the main camp centered around brick production for the first half of the war. This included the construction of a canal on the small offshoot of the Elbe river located at the campsite in order to transport raw materials from Hamburg. Inmates were forced to excavate the heavy, peaty soil with inadequate tools, regardless of weather conditions or the state of their health. Once the prisoners finished building the new brick factory in 1942, one of the most populated assignment was working in the clay pit, extracting and transporting clay from the main camp for brick production. Constructing the canal, digging the clay, and transporting the soil were known as the three “death commandos”. Skilled labour was almost always given to prisoners on upper rungs of the Aryan hierarchy.
From 1942 until the end of the war, armaments production became the central focus of Neuengamme, with private business ventures profiting financially from the free labour of the prisoners. Several armaments companies, including Messap, Jastram, Walter-Werke and the SS-owned Deutsche Ausrüstungswerke (DAW), established facilities inside the Neuengamme concentration camp following negotiations with the Nazi regime. Walther used their factory to manufacture Gewehr 43 semi-automatic rifles. While conditions for prisoners working in these privately owned factories were better than those working in other kommandos, all prisoners worked under the constant threat of being transferred to the death kommandos. According to the testimony of Wilhelm Bahr, an ex-medical orderly, during the trial against Bruno Tesch, 200 Russian prisoners of war were gassed by prussic acid in 1942. In April 1942, a crematorium was constructed at the camp. Prior to that all bodies were taken to Hamburg for cremation.
Because prisoners were forced to clear the site at the end of the war, only 10% of original documentation survives from the period. From this evidence, scholars have been able to conclusively prove exact numbers for some months of the entire 1938-1945 period. It is known exactly that by the end of 1940, 2,900 were imprisoned at Neuengamme and the known death toll was over 432. In 1941, the prisoners completed the barracks, and transports arrived from Auschwitz carrying 1002 prisoners as well as various other transports carrying 1000 Soviet POWs. The total number of prisoners grew to 4500. 495 known deaths occurred in 1941 alone.
Until the end of 1940, the majority of prisoners were of German nationality and contained a mix of Asocials, political opponents to the Nazi regime, and various other German national groups. After Neuengamme became an independent concentration camp, the prisoner population grew more diverse, and in the following years the Soviet group followed by the Polish prisoners made up the largest percentage of camp prisoners by nationality. Inmates were from 28 nationalities: Soviets (34,350), Polish (16,900), French (11,500), German (9,200), Dutch (6,950), Belgian (4,800), and Danish (4,800). The prisoner groups included those from the local Jewish community, communists, prostitutes, Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, prisoners of war and many other persecuted groups. Of 106,000 inmates, almost half died. 23,394 victims of Neuengamme and the subcamps can be found listed by name in the Neuengamme Memorial Site’s House of Remembrance. In reality, however, it is estimated that there were 26,800 victims of daily camp horrors and about 17,000 victims of the death marches and reception camps. At least 42,900 victims can be verified, even if not by name.
According to the testimony of Wilhelm Bahr, an ex-medical orderly, during the trial against Bruno Tesch, 197 Soviet prisoners of war were gassed by prussic acid (Zyklon B) in the arrest bunker of the camp on 25 September 1942. Four weeks later, 251 additional Soviet POWs were gassed in the bunker. There were also 20 Jewish children specifically brought to Neuengamme from Auschwitz in order to be experimented on by Dr. Kurt Heissmeyer from Berlin.
No SS women were stationed at Neuengamme permanently. Female guards were trained at Neuengamme and assigned to its female subcamps. Many of these SS women are known by name, including Käthe Becker, Erna Dickmann, Johanna Freund, Angelika Grass, Kommandoführerin Loni Gutzeit (who was nicknamed "The Dragon of Wandsbek" by the prisoners while serving at Hamburg-Wandsbek), Gertrud Heise, Frieda Ignatowitz, Gertrud Möller, who also served at the Boizenburg subcamp, Lotte Johanna Radtke, Chief Wardress Annemie von der Huelst,and Inge Marga Marggot Weber. Many of the women were later dispersed to female subcamps throughout northern Germany. Today it is known that female guards staffed the subcamps of Neuengamme at Boizenburg, Braunschweig SS-Reitschule, Hamburg-Sasel, Hamburg-Wandsbek, Helmstedt-Beendorf, Langenhorn, Neugraben, Obernheide, Salzwedel, and Unterluss (Vuterluss). Only a few have been tried for war crimes, and these include Anneliese Kohlmann, who served as one of six women-guards at Neugraben, and Gertrud Heise, Oberaufseherin at Obernheide.
The administration of Neuengamme was headed by SS-Sturmführer Alfons Bentele (16 September 1942 – 16 March 1943). Alfred Trzebinski (1902 – 1946) was the SS-physician for the Neuengamme subcamps. Most SS officers had direct contact with the prisoners, and their harassment and mistreatment were daily markers of camp routine. In Neuengamme, there were three or four guard forces that would form a Sturmbann to guard the camp and the work details outside the camp. The prisoners’ barracks were surrounded by a barbed wire fence electrically charged at night.
The SS commandant (German: Lagerführer) was in charge of the entire Neuengamme concentration camp network. There were only three commandants of Neuengamme, and over the years they were in charge of 4,500 SS men, with as many as 500 SS officers working at any given time.
As a subcamp of Sachsenhausen, the following men were commandants of Neuengamme:
Erich Frommhagen (SS member from May 1933, ID No. 73754) became adjutant to the commandant of the Neuengamme camp in early 1940. He was killed in action on 17 March 1945.
As an independent concentration camp, the following were commandants of Neuengamme:
See also: List of subcamps of Neuengamme
More than 80 subcamps were part of the Neuengamme concentration camp system. The first Neuengamme satellite opened in 1942, when inmates of Neuengamme were transported to the camp Arbeitsdorf. The number of prisoners within the subcamps drastically differed from camp to camp with as many as 3,000 inmates to as few as 10 or less.
Almost all women imprisoned at Neuengamme were interned in subcamps. In late 1943, most likely November, Neuengamme recorded its first female prisoners according to camp records. In the summer of 1944, Neuengamme receives numerous transports of female prisoners from Auschwitz, as well other camps in the East. All of the women were eventually shipped out to one of its twenty-four female subcamps.
Several of the former satellite camps have been converted into memorials or at least feature commemorative plaques on-site. In 2000, however, 28 locations still displayed nothing to indicate the past presence of a camp. Dr. Garbe, from the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial, wrote, "The importance of the satellite camps is further highlighted by the fact that toward the ends of the war three times more prisoners were in satellite camps than in the main camp."
The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Commonwealth occupied by Nazi Germany. The Germans built four camps, two of which later became Neuengamme subcamps on Alderney Island. The Alderney camps were named after the Frisian Islands: Lager Norderney, Lager Borkum, Lager Sylt and Lager Helgoland. The Nazi Organisation Todt (OT) operated each subcamp and used forced labourers to build bunkers, gun emplacements, air-raid shelters, and concrete fortifications. The Alderney camps had a total inmate population of about 6,000.
Norderney camp housed slave labourers mostly from eastern Europe and a smattering from Russia and Spain. The prisoners in Lager Norderney and Lager Sylt were slave labourers forced to build the many military fortifications and installations throughout Alderney. Sylt camp held Jewish forced labourers. Lager Borkum was used for German technicians and volunteers from different countries of Europe. Lager Helgoland was filled with Russian OT workers.
In March 1943, Lager Norderney, containing Russian and Polish POWs, and Lager Sylt, holding Jews, were placed under the control of the SS Hauptsturmführer Max List. Over 700 of the OT workers lost their lives on the island or while travelling to or from it in the one year under List’s leadership. The camps were then closed and the remaining inmates transferred to Germany in 1944.
|Dead in deportation||55,000|
|not officially on the lists||-||-||5,900|
Due to the clearing of the Neuengamme camp and the destruction of its records by the SS and the transportation of inmates to other subcamps or other working locations in 1945, the historical work is difficult and ongoing. For example: in 1967 the German Federal Ministry of Justice stated the camp existed from 1 September 1938 until 5 May 1945. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum states that the camp was established on 13 December 1938 and liberated on 4 May 1945.
In all, more than 50,000 prisoners, almost half of those imprisoned in the camp during its existence, died in Neuengamme before liberation.
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